Ever since I was a small child, I’ve been a sweets enthusiast.
Growing up, my mom would often refer to me as her “little sugar addict.” That was usually when I was either stuffing my mouth full of cookies or complaining about the limit of Oreos I was allowed to eat per day.
For the record, the limit was five. I thought it was terribly cruel at the time, that I could only consume five cookies each day. But that is neither here nor there.
Sweets were a major part of my life until very recently. In fact, one of my college roommates nicknamed me “Cookie Monster.” Are you starting to pick up on a theme?
As a youngster, inhaling sweets by the truckload didn’t seem like a problem. I was thin, and no amount of sugary calories was going to put a damper on my basketball playing, bike-riding, skate-boarding, frolicking-in-general young metabolism.
Those were also the relatively innocent days, before it was widely known that sugar was way more damaging than just “empty calories” that caused cavities and maybe made you fat if you ever stopped moving long enough (I didn’t).
Fortunately, as I entered college, I found that I had developed limits on how much sugar I could eat in one sitting. For instance, if I’d had two pieces of cake with ice cream, I could easily refuse a cookie. Or maybe I’d only eat one instead of two. This was an improvement from my childhood when no such desire for limits existed.
Fast forward to adulthood and married life. Having married a fellow lover of sweets, the pattern continued. Cookies, brownies, ice cream, donuts and soda were no strangers to our household. As I noticed my youthful metabolism slowing upon entering my 30s, I knew something had to change, but I wasn’t quite ready.
A Wake-Up Call
Motivation dropped square into my lap after lab results came back from a doctor’s visit in 2011. My A1c (blood sugar) level had crossed the line into the terrifying category of … prediabetes. Granted, it was only .1 % over the normal range, but that was all it took. I was scared. “(Pre) Diabetes doesn’t happen to people like me! I’m in shape, and I exercise regularly!”
Turns out, it can happen, if you don’t think twice about polishing off a pint of Ben & Jerry’s in one sitting.
With the potential of diabetes being a very real threat, I did a 180. My shopping cart became devoid of all my staple junk foods. I even put the brakes on eating dessert at social gatherings far more often than I would have otherwise. Which is to say, the brakes got used for the first time ever.
My next doctor’s visit sometime later showed that my extreme approach had worked. I was out of the danger zone. A sigh of relief.
Know what happened next?
Now that I was in the clear, I started getting lax on my sweets habits again. Cookies made their way back into the shopping cart, as did many of the other comfort foods. Maybe not as many as before, but more than I needed. (Yes, I know that “zero” is the amount that I “need.”)
I never could forget that health scare, and I am pleased to say it altered my sugar consumption habits forever. I now knew I wasn’t immune. But the battle waged on with my deeply held desires for sugar.
Metabolism: Friend or Enemy?
The jury is still out on that question. I can tell you that as I marched further into my 30s, my metabolism did what it’ll do: it slowed down even more. Now it was starting to become a problem. What began as a blood sugar battle became a struggle with weight gain. The only reason I’d even consider my slowing metabolism a friend, is that it made me realize I had to take a hard look (again) at my consumption habits.
2016: The Year of the Great Awakening
I’ll admit, that is a melodramatic paragraph heading. I’m OK with that.
It was in spring of 2016 that I came across some information that changed everything for me.
You see, I’d heard things here and there from people about how sugar is “so bad for you.” I knew it was true, but I was eager to shrug it off when only hearing it as unsolicited advice from others, and not having hard and fast facts in front of me.
A health-conscious co-worker had told me that processed sugar was addictive, which was new to me, but seemed both logical and frightening. I think I responded to that with, “Oh. Yeah…” (long pause) “Well, I’m going to walk to the coffee shop across the street and get a mocha and a cookie the size of my face. Want anything while I’m out?”
The facts were mounting (so was my weight) against my favorite food group.
What came next was an “Aha!” moment. The “moment” actually came in the form of an article. I read it, and my world was rocked. All the things I knew and had heard were true, and it was even worse than I thought. (Rather than rehash all the contents of the article, I suggest you take a few minutes to read it for yourself.)
With the information I had learned, the choice suddenly became easier to make. I discovered that not only were sweets horrible, but that sugar is packed into normal foods too, even ones you don’t suspect. Read the article.
To test the waters, I devoted June 2016 to be a month of NO added sugar. (With few exceptions, like milk, which contains sugar.) I cut out ALL my treats: coffee creamer, desserts of every kind, soda, processed maple syrup, EVERYTHING. I also became a label-reader with renewed vigor and stopped buying many things that had a ton of sugar or high fructose corn syrup in them.
A side note: Another article I had read had around the same time opened my eyes to the danger of artificial sugar. That meant I also had to give up my cherished Diet Mt. Dew; diet soda was yet another thing I had been warned about without solicitation and ignored.
I expected June to be a month of withdrawals and urgent sugar cravings. It was rough for the first few days but not as bad as I thought. I was armed with chilled green tea when my afternoon soda hankering set in. I had apples and mixed nuts at the ready when I got the munchies after lunch.
The most difficult thing was the after dinner sweets craving. Up to that point, it was not uncommon to have cookies or chocolate chips in the cupboard to grab for dessert. But since I had purged the house of it, it was not a temptation I could act on. My poor husband got the raw end of the deal. He didn’t sign up for sweets purging, but since I do the grocery shopping, he was stuck with what I brought home.
Those 30 days weren’t easy, but I made it through unscathed. In the process, I undid some damaging habits that I replaced with new, healthier ones I maintain to this day. I even lost five pounds that month without exercising. When the month was up, I allowed myself to eat sweets again, sparingly. What I found though, was that I didn’t crave them as much. I had gone without, and I knew then that I could do it.
Furthermore, the sting of learning just how bad sugar actually is had been branded into my consciousness forever. I was not interested in going back to my old ways.
2017 and the Ongoing Victory Story
It has now been over a year, and I am pleased to report that my resolve remains intact. But as I mentioned at the beginning, I am a sweets lover at heart, and I suspect I always will be. Being diehard and never allowing myself to eat sweets is not my game. Nor is it even a good idea, in my opinion.
I still allow indulgences from time to time. A world without mochas and margaritas is no world for me. If we’re going camping or on a road trip, you bet I’m going to buy a package of Oreos. And I am going to munch on them without guilt. But instead of consuming all my favorite goodies on a regular basis, I do so only as occasional treats.
Every once in a while, my inner sugar addict screams, “I NEED A MAPLE DONUT! NOWWWWW!” Those moments are tricky. But knowing what I know, nine times out of ten the rage of the Sweets-aholic in me subsides after a short while, and I go back to doing what I was doing. Having things like gum on hand helps, or brushing my teeth right after dinner to get rid of that post-meal-need-sugar sensation.
More than that, I have continued to educate myself on balanced, healthy eating and rooting out processed foods and things that are much more sinister than they appear.
The crazy thing is, sugary, processed junk food is barely even a temptation for me anymore. Other than the aforementioned exceptions, I typically scoff at the Oreos and ice cream as I walk by them in the store. By the grace of God and the good fortune of learning some hard truths about my lifestyle, I have realized that the very short-term satisfaction of eating sugar just isn’t worth it. It is not worth jeopardizing my long-term health. That is what keeps my will strong, most of the time.
Now when I see others indulging in sweets as recklessly as I once did, I am tempted to make remarks about it. But I usually don’t, because I remember those comments from others didn’t sway me back then. I thought about them with various levels of annoyance. I tried to ignore them. I wasn’t ready to do anything about it until I came face to face with the facts for myself. Then, I had no choice but to take action. I’m so glad I did.